Letter to the Editor

Nicole Vangelista

When the Student Government Association stated publicly that our education is not the faculty’s bargaining chip, I was so disappointed and strongly disagreed as someone who has served the roles of SGA senator, secretary, chief of staff, and an SGA representative for UPBC. If the administration cared about students, they would care about faculty having equal opportunity benefits comparable to other industries and universities. For example the lack of maternity and paternity leave, and working to negotiate a fair contract. By not being willing to negotiate a fair contract, that’s well overdue mind you, they would care about students getting the correct support and guidance from faculty. The mistreatment and lack of support for faculty is that same mistreatment students are given. No free snack, domino’s pizza, or false promise will reflect the actions the administration has taken to fail the university. In my honest opinion it’s outrageous that administrators feel comfortable letting students lose the quality of education working with those who directly provide the education. 

As a student who is still stuck in the aftermath of unexpectedly losing a father, the lack of support from Northeastern Illinois University has been greatly impacted by overworked, underpaid, and under-represented staff. Finding out there was no protection for students expecting bereavement felt like a noose around my neck from the beginning, before ever returning to campus. It all started out with an upcoming trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the SACNAS conference with the SCSE (Student Center for Science Engagement) and finding the entire last day on campus wondering why I had not gotten a phone call or text back from my father. After class I could not shake an uncomfortable image of him laying on the ground in a white room, so I did what any panicking daughter would do with their parents being out of state for work for months. I called in a wellness check that I did not expect to transform my life as it did. My father was found on a white-tiled floor in horrifying conditions, a short phone call that broke me into a million pieces at once.  In complete shock and confusion I found myself walking into the Pedroso Center just in time to get a series of phone calls that I nearly could not understand as each phone call was worse in such a short amount of time. I could not even comprehend the first call asking if my father had wishes on life saving measures. I found myself confused, responding he was supposed to be home for Christmas while the Interim Assistant Director said “Just say yes”, I repeated “Yes”, and the phone call ended abruptly with a follow up minutes later to confirm he was successfully revived after only arriving at the hospital 15 minutes prior. I thought it was the worst hour of my life with each call, feeling unprepared to be making these decisions before I found the next more difficult hour. A student worker was looking at a flight that found me a flight out, before I left to figure the rest out on my own and make some hard calls. At the time I did not expect it would be the most support and guidance I’d get at Northeastern to this day, outside of weekly visits with Student Counseling Service to get back to a state of “functionable” from all of the trauma I experience from loss and returning to pursue my education. 


Returning I only experienced the same medical issues that led to the death of my father, the shell of myself found no guidance in how to navigate basic daily functions let alone how to finish out incompletes with professors who are overwhelmed with the leadership in administration failing professors and students. The strike is overdue.


In 2011 Purdue University adopted a rare academic leave policy for grieving students to student students who lost a loved one during the academic school year to allow bereaved students to focus on their grief rather than contacting multiple instructors to make arrangements for missed coursework and material. Prior it was up to faculty members individually to receive permission. At Northeastern my experience is a huge lack of support and navigation outside of student consulting services to navigate the loss of a primary parent with major impacts. Northeastern Illinois does not have any policy on bereavement or regarding any level of protection for students, such as myself, whereas Purdue’s policy mandates the consistent treatment of such students and provides protection with consistent guidelines and based on the relation of the decades to the student to better support and understand the students needs. 


Dr. Heather Servaty-Seib, associate vice provost at Purdue University led grief and loss research aimed at understanding the idiosyncratic experiences of those grieving. Loss that applies to death and the many challenges of life experiences including college graduation and educational transitions. Dr. Heather Servaty-Seib stated the following: 


“Bereaved students have significantly lower GPAs during the semester the death took place, and these students are at a higher risk of attrition from college.. in addition to helping students succeed academically, having a policy communicates that the institution is compassionate and respectful toward its students” (Purdue University News Services, 2011).


Students in crisis or experience impacts of loss and grief may not fit into traditional and current NIEU policy. The trauma impact does not stop after returning back from traumatic events if there is no guidance and support, and can be more traumatizing trying to understand how to process grief and missed coursework. First-degree family member, followed by a second-degree family member, and non-family member who may be prevalent in the college students experience of loss. Bereavement can greatly affect a student’s ability to function with daily tasks and personal hygiene well balancing grief and academics. 


Whereas the impacts of grief impact every student differently and depending on the circumstances of the loss. Northeastern Illinois University lacks support for students experiencing bereavement and protection for students, whereas one semester term may not be adequate for students to balance current academic terms with any incompletes from the prior semester where the death accorded while experiencing grief and disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief may vary and include the following: 


Intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, despair, depression, even in some cases self-harm/risk to self or others. Feelings numbness or lack of feeling anything at all from dissociation, feeling nothing at all. Feeling guilt(s), shame for griefing, or the circumstances of the loss. Having difficulty remembering, making decisions, concentrating, and basic caring for one’s self are just a few of things students may be overwhelmed to experience outside of academic stress and worries. 


 With the recent pandemic it is reasonable to connect that students may experience amplified intensity of grief and mental instability in correlation to loss which requires a better understanding of policy, support to navigate through undergraduation, and provide interventions for students experiencing trauma or in crisis from grief. Whereas research reports that 60 percent of college students report having a loss of at least one person close to them before ending their academic career (Cox et al, 2015). It shows a lack of student support and care to have not policy on bereavement or bereavement protection, if Northeastern Illinois University prides prides themselves in their mission statement on providing an “exceptional environment for learning”, visions success of its students, and values the “access to opportunity” then why does the University lack support for the students experiencing bereavement. 


With programs that may be mentioned but never explained how to apply or where to gain support to students, how do they expect students to have resources if everything is covered up by jumping through hoops and trying to climb unrealistic barriers meant to benefit select individuals that are favored by administrators, including SGA members who have been exclusively benefiting and support a President and other administrators who have no interest in the major of students. It’s unfortunate that there are many students who have barely survived the same bureaucracy impacting faculty. It’s unacceptable that students find themselves having to be their own advocate because faculty is too overwhelmed to even guide any direction due to time constraints on salaries that can be quite shocking. I often wonder how horrified students would be to see that salaries, limited benefits, and lack of support faculty get, then I have to remind myself it is just a mirroring reflection to why enrollment. Word of mouth works for more than just good news, if administrators and the board of trustees really are willing to refuse reasonable negotiations we as students should be joining faculty in support. Because when a system is this broken, now is the time for students too to make demands for better support from the University.


Thanks in advance, 

Nicole Vangelista, (She/Her)

Undergraduate Student – Biology

Vice President – Society of Physics Students